The Twelve-Year Mistake Part 8: The Island

By Shamus Posted Monday Jul 1, 2013

Filed under: Personal 198 comments

It’s February of 2013. The temperature is a bone-shattering 15°F today. (About -10°C.) It’s so cold my eyes are watering. Now, this actually isn’t that cold by the standards of a Pennsylvania winter, but context has a way of changing how we perceive temperature. In this case, I’m standing in the kitchen, and I don’t normally expect kitchens to be this cold.

“Aren’t you worried about the pipes freezing?” I ask the owner. All the utilities are off, which is why it’s so cold in here.

“Nah,” she shrugs. “It should be okay. It hasn’t been cold enough to worry about that.”

I nod. I’ve been sort of nervous about freezing pipes since January of 2008.

She’s named Jenny. She’s got her daughter with her today, showing us prospective tenants this apartment. I take another walk through the place. It doesn’t take long. It’s small.

“We’ll have all this stuff fixed before you move in,” she assures me.

I shake my head. The damage is extensive.

On the left are my daughters. On the right is the 80’s Bill Gates poster we sometimes hang up as a prank.
On the left are my daughters. On the right is the 80’s Bill Gates poster we sometimes hang up as a prank.

The previous tenants were pretty standard dysfunctional white-trash troublemakers. They broke windows and tore down all the curtain rods in the process of moving out, and left a bunch of garbage scattered around for the owners to clean up. It looks like the bedroom window was broken and then handfulls of children’s toys were thrown out on the roof where they rolled down into the gutter. I find some loose Oxycottons scattered in the empty space where the stove used to be. (Who loses track of their expensive narcotics like this?) According to Jenny, it was originally just a guy, his girlfriend, and her kid. Then a brother-in-law. Then somebody’s mom.

“We’ll get a door on this bedroom for you.” She’s pointing to the small bedroom in the back of the apartment.

I walk to the back and take a look. The door is indeed missing. It’s been removed Hulk-style. There’s a half-meter triangle of wood hanging on the top hinge. The rest of the door is propped up against the wall or scattered all over the place in the form of splinters.

I look around the room and let out a thoughtful sigh. Mist billows out of my mouth and gathers into a little cloud in front of my face. I hate making decisions like this. Last time I picked a place to live it was a long, slow-motion disaster. I don’t want to rush this next decision. On the other hand, I need to make a decision soon. On the gripping hand, this feels right.

Jenny and her husband run a total of twelve properties scattered around the city. This is what they do for a living. They buy houses, renovate them, and rent them out. This means they have the tools and knowledge to run things properly. This is preferable to someone with a day job who just takes care of a single property in their free time, or (more commonly) a retired couple who don’t have the skills and tools to fix things when they break. If these people can get this place ready by March 1st then I’m confident they can show up and fix things in a timely way.

It’s been a tough search. We have a very specific list of needs:

  1. We need a place that hasn’t had furry or feathered pets in the last couple of years. This is tough, since very few owners forbid pets and a lot of tenants just ignore them when they do.
  2. We need enough space for all five of us, plus room for my home office.
  3. The place needs clean and stable wiring. Older houses still using their original 1940’s wiring are not good for computers. Are the outlets grounded, do they have enough capacity for this many machines, and are they in a useful location?
  4. Is there decent internet service available, and are the hookups located in a sane place?
  5. Is the owner willing to rent to a family that’s defaulting on their mortgage?
  6. Can we afford it? I’m being very conservative in my budgeting, because I don’t want to make the same mistake again. I want to make sure we can afford this place even if we suffer a few financial setbacks.

Note my J.J. Abrams style LENS FLARE desk lamp. It makes the room really sleek, sexy, and hard to see.
Note my J.J. Abrams style LENS FLARE desk lamp. It makes the room really sleek, sexy, and hard to see.

Some of these requirements work against each other. Places with strict NO PETS policy are usually tiny apartments. Owners with nice places are often picky about who they rent to. And places with new wiring and lots of room tend to be expensive.

I mull it over. The price is right. Jenny is okay with our history. The space – once they get it fixed up – is right for our family. There’s no (known) history of pets. The floors are all wood, so there’s not a lot for pet dander to cling to. The place looks easy to heat. On the other hand, this apartment is the second-floor of a great big old house and I’m willing to bet it will be murder to cool in the summer.

Every town has a spot where the lower-economic families cluster. The dynamics of this have always fascinated me. (I even mentioned it in the opening paragraph of this chapter of my cyberpunk book. Note that it’s not really an analysis of this phenomena, that was just me trying to set up the bog-standard haves-and-have-nots contrast that the genre is known for.) Poverty trends towards crime and decay. This means that property values go down around poor people and up elsewhere, so poor people can’t afford to live near non-poor people. People with money can afford to take care of their houses and improve them over time, while poor people struggle just to keep the roof and windows in decent condition. This feedback loop will organically create an area with crisply defined edges.

Nobody sat down and said, “People east of Washington St. will be poor people with dilapidated houses and people west of Washington St. will have cozy homes with late-model cars parked out front.” Nobody designed this. It’s emergent. Sometimes I think about how interesting it would be if there was a version of Sim City that modeled this dynamic. (And where you couldn’t just “cure” poverty by bulldozing low-income housing. That’s pretty messed up if you think about it.)

In this town, our poor area is called The Island. There are no official borders and it’s not depicted on any map, but everyone knows where The Island starts and ends. If you were to draw a border around The Island, the line would intersect this house.

“I think we’re good,” I say. This is the first place to have all of the variables line up for us. It’s not perfect, but I think it would be unreasonable to expect much better. Being on the edge of The Island has perhaps depressed the price into our range without having to make too many compromises in other areas.

My friend Ethan and his family help us move. I call Ethan my friend, but he’s really just a guy I take advantage of every couple of years. He’s bailed me out of several tight spots now and he’s never asked or even hinted that he’d want anything in return. We keep talking about starting a D&D game or seeing a movie, but it never happens. It doesn’t matter. He’s ready to go on moving day and when he shows up with his wife and kids they seem just thrilled to be out in the cold, carrying my possessions up and down flights of stairs.

Good people.

Surreal Estate

Rachel with a Minecraft Creeper style watermelon. WHAT NOW, GALLAGHER?
Rachel with a Minecraft Creeper style watermelon. WHAT NOW, GALLAGHER?

The foreclosure goes through. The phone calls stop. The house goes up for auction. It’s over.

When spring comes, the old place appears in the real estate listings. A few months ago, the bank sabotaged a deal that would have sold this place for $N. Now someone has bought it and is selling it for about $N. Now, unless the new owner is a crazy person, this means that:

  1. $N was indeed a reasonable asking price for the property.
  2. The bank eventually unloaded the property for a lot less than $N.

When you buy a property, there are taxes to pay and a bunch of annoying legal fees to take care of, plus you’re going to be paying property taxes on the place until you can sell it again. So the new owner wouldn’t have bought the place unless they could be reasonably sure that could cover those expenses.

So the bank refused to sell the house for $N, but then were happy to unload at auction for much less than $N. In doing so, they foreclosed on us, which has put a huge black mark on our record and will prevent us from borrowing money for the next decade-ish. Everyone lost. In fact, this was the maximally most destructive outcome for all parties.


This was taken a week ago, as of this posting. We’re visiting the <a href="">Carnegie Science Center</a> to get more SCIENCE! Left to right: Esther, Me, Rachel, and my nephew Dax.
This was taken a week ago, as of this posting. We’re visiting the Carnegie Science Center to get more SCIENCE! Left to right: Esther, Me, Rachel, and my nephew Dax.

I was right. It’s murder trying to keep this place cool in the summer. The roof catches a lot of heat and it all gathers in our second-floor dwelling. The place is kind of S-shaped, so it’s hard to get air flowing from one end to the other. Other than this small gripe, the new apartment is a fine place to live.

I was worried about the space at first. The apartment is less than a third of what the old house was, but the space is divided up just right. Even though we have less space, we kind of have more privacy. Rachel can practice her piano. (And we’re even in walking distance of her piano lessons.) Esther has a spot where she can paint. I’ve got my little technology nest where I can do my thing. The serpentine layout does an amazing job of deadening noise so Heather can enjoy her Korean dramas in the living room room without driving me bonkers in the office.

The rent and utilities are a fraction of what it cost us to live in the old house. It kills me to think we struggled for all those years for basically no good reason other than my failure to accurately appraise the costs.

So that’s the story. It was strange and sometimes stressful, but in the end we didn’t come to any tangible harm. While I would have loved to avoid foreclosure, I can’t complain about how things are going. Considering I bought a house that was a bit too expensive for us and that it lost nearly half its value over a dozen years, we did really well. We didn’t go bankrupt. We didn’t lose our ability to earn a living. We didn’t lose anything important. Yes, the bank was baffling and incompetent, but they hurt themselves a lot more than they hurt us.

Thanks to everyone who stuck around and read my work over all these years. We’ve got a good thing going here.


From The Archives:

198 thoughts on “The Twelve-Year Mistake Part 8: The Island

  1. Uscias says:

    I´m glad to see that this story has a happy ending.

    1. Zaxares says:

      Ditto. :)

      Oh, and for the record, I always felt uncomfortable about “improving property values” in Sim City by bulldozing low-valued buildings too, which was why I would doggedly build improvements in the area until the value went up. Generally, my goal was to create a utopia for my Sims to live in. (Even if I had to resort to liberal use of the money cheat to do it!)

      1. Deoxy says:

        If you look much into eminent domain use and abuse, you’ll find that politicians seem to think that the Sim City method actually works.

        Well, some combination of that and outright corruption, anyway….

  2. Hitchmeister says:

    I’m glad thing finally worked out after a fashion for you. At least at this point you can stop spinning your wheels and move forward. I just wish it didn’t seem like the bank was operating on petty spite. “Yes. We could have sold the house for only a slight loss, but we’d rather lose a lot more money if it means screwing you over, Mr. Young.”

    If it’s any consolation, that seems typical, so what should seem like a black mark on your credit rating is probably more like light grey in this day and age.

    1. Adam says:

      It’s really more that literally everyone who’s taking out loans right now has a record sheet that is one of several shades of gray (NOT 50 shades, although there’s a comparable amount of F***ing going down.) and banks have to choose between them.

      1. Over the years I’ve learned that it doesn’t hurt you if you tell people straight up “I was fired” or “I went bankrupt” or “I got sick”–people appreciate your honesty and the only ones who sneer at you are toxic douchecanoes you want to avoid at all costs no matter HOW much money they have.

        1. BeamSplashX says:

          I can’t believe I’ve missed seeing the term “douchecanoes” until today. It flows so well!

          Thanks again for another great story, Shamus.

          1. Unbeliever says:

            I think I rode the douchecanoe once, at a theme park.

            I got very wet.

    2. Scampi says:

      Not knowing too much about the American taxing system, I wonder if this is some strange case, where the sale won’t pay enough unless the price goes up to (value + x), while potential losses are caught up by some kind of tax loophole that allows the bank to risk the loss on account of being bailed out by the state in the end if there’s not enough profit in it.
      I’m pretty sure this is possible in a number of countries worldwide. Does the United States belong to those?

    3. Namfoodle says:

      I think “punishment” is a partial explanation for the bias towards foreclosure and away from short sales and other work-outs. I think financial institutions are worried that anything but the foreclosure hammer invites fraud. Therefore they suffer fewer losses overall if they focus on foreclosure. The blow-out in the real estate market meant there were too many properties to force through the “preferred” process at once, so institutionalized foot dragging commenced.

      1. Volfram says:

        They can also get a fat government handout if they trash their own finances too hard. Invites a whole different kind of fraud.

        1. Deoxy says:

          This. So much of this.

          This (and other such things) are why I keep saying that the banks actions and what will be good or bad for the bank are unknown to you (and us). There are, quite simply, more variables than most of us deal with in our entire lives.

          And really, even most individuals in the banking system are going to be responding primarily to their personal incentives, which are grossly simplified compared to the incentives of the bank as a whole.

          So yeah, it may well be that letting it be foreclosed was the best option you left them, but leaving you to stay in it for free for quite some time was better than that, and selling it for $N at the time mentioned was actually the worst for them.

          Systems shouldn’t be set up this way – it’s crazy and stupid. But then, that’s politicians, eh?

  3. krellen says:

    If only there were a way to store the cold from the winter for use in the summer.

    1. Disc says:

      We’ve been doing that for at least a couple centuries. With very low-tech solutions like digging a hole in winter, filling it with snow and then covering it so that it will keep itself insulated no matter the outside temperature. It’s how the ice-cream sellers of old kept their merchandise cool, just for example.


      1. Steve C says:

        Sadly it’s not a practical solution. A/C is still cheaper and easier with air.

        I looked into a residential heat pump 2 years ago and they are simply too expensive per year when you cost them out over their lifetime. Even holding the snow like that is basically confined to industrial use (article uses hospital/municipality). They are the only ones with the space.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Snow is indeed a more industrial sort of solution, but it’s basically just a phase-change cooling medium (PCM), for which you can google to see a plethora of references available for residential applications online, but here’s a wiki page for more general reference.

          For the heat pump, it depends, on what system you’re replacing and what heat-pump you’re replacing the system with. With air-source (which you’re limited to in most urban areas) it’s hard to get a good COP for the cost, but I know a guy who had a propane system that he replaced with a geothermal water-source pump, that paid for itself in a year (it helped that he did all the work himself and had a really simple loop-free system, drawing water from a well and depositing it in a leech field when he was done).

          With natural gas as cheap as it is now, though, it’s definitely hard to make up the cost on small residential systems unless you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Water is a really good thermal insulator so that would make sense.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              Erm…quite the opposite, actually. A long-winded explanation follows, you can stop here if you don’t want to read more :)

              Water is a terrible insulator–this is why you see so many systems using water for cooling (including every automobile ever made). Water is highly conductive, so it removes heat relatively quickly, and of course it is very abundant.

              The way heat pumps (and air conditioners/refrigerators) work, they move heat from one place and into another. They are highly thermodynamically efficient, because you aren’t actually generating heat, you are just moving it around. For your usual air conditioner, it is moving heat from your house and forcing it outdoors. For a heat pump it is just the opposite–it is moving heat from outdoors into your house. A heat pump is basically an air conditioner hooked up backwards.

              In a water source heat pump (WSHP), the source of the heat is water. This water can come from many sources–a lake or pond, or a specially conditioned reservoir, or an underground well. Now, the thing about heat pumps and air conditioners is that they work best when A) you know what the temperature for your source and your sink are ahead of time and design for it, B) the temperature difference between your source and sink aren’t very high, and C) the thermal conductivity of your source and sink are very high. That’s why WSHPs have an advantage–outdoor water temperatures can be more consistent (or more easily controlled) than air temperatures with fewer spikes, and water is a highly conductive medium.

              The problem is expense versus reward. Air-source heat pumps (the backwards air conditioners) are considerably more expensive than your usual furnace, and don’t get the much better performance since they use relatively very cold air as a heat source (also gas is cheap and electricity is expensive). Water source heat pumps get way better performance, but they are massively expensive, usually requiring hundreds of yards of pipe to be buried underground or run underwater to condition the heat source. These pipes cost a lot to install and they leak.

              They guy I knew was lucky–he had a groundwater well with enough capacity, that he was able to supply his system and then he had enough drainage on his property to drain all the water out to his septic system when he was done using it. That made the system relatively simple and cheap to install, and since he was moving from an extremely expensive fuel source (propane) his heating costs fell by a factor of twenty.

              1. snafu says:

                Water is a terrible insulator”“this is why you see so many systems using water for cooling (including every automobile ever made).

                I think the owners of VW Beetles, Karmann Ghias, Chevy Corvairs, Citroen 2CVs, and Porsche 911s (among others) would disagree about that.

                1. Abnaxis says:

                  Okay, how about “every automobile ever made that actually uses coolant.” I wasn’t counting air-cooled systems :P

                  There aren’t any oil-cooled automobiles right? Or am I going to have to eat my words again? >.<

                  1. snafu says:

                    Well, the oil added to the fuel for a two-cycle engine has some cooling effect, but those engines are primarily air-cooled (lawn mowers, model air planes) or water-cooled (Saab 92, 93, and 96).

              2. Steve C says:

                Actually I looked at all of air-heat pumps, ground-heat pumps, and water-heat pumps. I thought the water heat pump would be perfect for me (I live 50ft from a lake) but it was still too expensive. There was the large upfront cost of the equipment, plus the digging, plus all the pipe. The kicker was the electricity cost of pumping the water. Even if I cheaped-out and did the landscaping myself it still was more expensive than a propane furnace + run-of-the-mill A/C.

                I’m somewhat curious how it was the cheaper solution for your friend. I came away from it thinking “large applications only“.

                1. Abnaxis says:

                  It was cheap for him because he kinda cheated. His system is coined a “pump and dump” system–whereas your system probably involved submerging a bunch of great, big loops of copper tubing in the lake. In more technical terms, he had an open loop system, versus the more expensive closed-loop varieties.

                  This page explains the difference. See, cities generally frown on using lake water directly, plus you have filtration and wildlife issues to deal with, so any system I have seen that involves a lake usually uses some sort of heat exchange mechanism (usually a loop) to transfer heat from the lakewater to the source water. That’s not always true–one of my company’s customers is a zoo that pulls water from a pond to supply both their heat pumps and their cage cleaning water, but that’s never how it is done residentially.

                  My friend has an open loop system. He lives out in the country, so he already relied on a well for his drinking water. He basically put in a second tap in the same well, filtered the water, then put in a second septic system to drain it out. While the overall system wasn’t cheap, it’s fairly simple to install a leech field (he rented a trencher), and he had the mechanical know-how to install the equipment himself, so the only thing he needed any outside help on was setting up the well.

                  The installation set him back something like $1,400, which isn’t all that much when it saves you $300 a month. I want to say the equipment was the same price, but this was four years ago. From the link I referenced, a closed-loop installation usually averages $2400-3200, and that’s before you factor in equipment costs for the heat pump itself.

                  If you aren’t getting gouged on propane like this guy was, you’re talking about a reeeaaallly long time to pay for the system with the savings. That’s why you never see the systems anywhere unless it’s particularly advantageous to have them like it was for my friend (though I will note that prices have gone way down in the last four years–back then, it took something like $5-6k to put a closed loop in, IIRC).

                  1. Steve C says:

                    I was never given the option for a system like your friend’s but I wish I had. I believe it would have worked for me. I could have used my shore well as the source water, and dumped it in the lake afterward. (Which would simply end up moving it 10ft.) I think there would have been zero plumbing, and digging involved in that setup too. Even the waste water could have used the existing rain drainage pipes since that already dumps the rain in the lake.

                    1. Abnaxis says:

                      Now it’s my turn to learn something new. I did not know there was any such thing as a residential water system that took potable water from a lake. To be honest, it sounds kind of scary–who knows what critters and pollutants are in there? 8|

                      I would also be concerned about stability. I mean, as long as your well can source something like 100,000 gallons of water a month, you’re ok, and I suppose you don’t get all that many dry spells in the winter, but a lot of heat pump systems double as AC as well (reversing valves are installed to allow both heating and cooling with the same hardware) and I would worry about losing the AC if there was a serious enough drought to wipe out the well.

                    2. Steve C says:

                      Not sure but it sounds like you may have an incorrect mental picture of what a shore well is. Water isn’t taken from the lake. A shore well is merely close to the shoreline. Waves etc (aka the shore) never touch the well. With a regular dug well, water filters down from the surface. With a shore well, water filters horizontally.

                      And as for stability-
                      A shore well basically cannot go dry before the lake does. I’ve run it 24/7 for a week solid in the summer because I was trying to run the well down. (I failed.) @10 GPM I guess that’s over 432000 gallons per month. If the well stopped though it would be in the winter. Theoretically the ground could freeze 100% solid.

                      As for safety-
                      I had mine tested for non-organic contaminants a few years ago with none found. I have it tested for organic contaminants every few months (like everyone with a well is supposed to do) and that always comes back as zeros across the board. That’s due to being treated by an inline UV light inside. A shore well is as safe as any standard well.

                      That being said, I still use municipal tap water via jugs I fill for drinking etc. Partly because of the taste and partly because no well is 100% safe.

              3. Gregory Thomas Bogosian says:

                “Water is a terrible insulator–this is why you see so many systems using water for cooling (including every automobile ever made). Water is highly conductive, so it removes heat relatively quickly, and of course it is very abundant.”

                That depends on what you mean by “water.” The properties that make something a good conductor of electricity are the same that make it a good conductor of heat: free electrons that carry the energy from one molecule to the next.

                Water in its pure form, H20 is an insulator of electricity and heat. Water with impurities, the kind that you find in the wild, is an conductor of electricity and heat.

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        There’s a very low-tech solution to this, it’s called “thick stone walls”. Although it usually only works over a few days. Still it nicely dampens weather-spikes, and it allows us to not have to adjust the central heating to the day-and-night cycle.

        Something that also works: A well-insulated roof. With some landlords, this may even be attainable for people who rent.

        And then there’s the super-cheap solution, at least for hot summers: Open all the windows and doors in the morning and leave to cool down until the inside of your house has the same temperature as outside. Then close everything, including blinds, and don’t open until the inside is hotter than the outside, repeat. … depending on the heat capacity and insulation of the building, mileage varies significantly, of course :(

        1. Lanthanide says:

          Technically, Thermal Mass.

    2. bvdemier says:

      There are a few systems available for heat-exchange between a building and the soil beneath it. the people i work for recently made a system of piles beneath a new hospital. It is based around It works kinda, but it needs a lot of tech, needs a lot of money upfront and basicly can be used only on large newly constructed buildings. Still the tech seems to work.

  4. Mersadeon says:

    God, I am SO happy that this turned out relatively well. Seriously, I kinda got more nervous as it went on, always thinking “oh please don’t let anything horrible happen”.

    So, yeah, congratulations on finding an ok place to live! It definitely showed me I first gotta get my stuff done in university before trying to write books for a living :)

    And just so you know – you have a great talent to tell stories in a gripping way. I loved your retrospective life-stories.

    Edit: Also, it was a very alien concept for me to have to look for a place to live on the grounds of “will it be cool in summer” – here it’s more “will I have to pay out of my nose to keep it warm in winter”.

    1. Duhad says:

      Same for me up in Maine.

      And Mersadeon is right, you have an incredible gift for telling the stories of your life in a griping and interesting way!

      Have you ever considered sending this story to “This American Life”? Because this is the kinda of story they eat up and your wonderful story telling style combined with a pretty rock solid “radio voice” is pretty much a match made in heaven for NPR.

    2. MichaelG says:

      It’s 107 for the third day in a row here in central California. Yay?

      1. Give it up for the asscrack of the USA! Central Valley represent!

        1. MichaelG says:

          That would put the “tramp stamp” somewhere near the Oregon border, I think.

          1. Namfoodle says:

            So the state of Jefferson.

      2. Warrax says:

        It was 107 in Phoenix last night… at 3AM :(

        I really wish I could afford better windows. Standing near one in the late afternoon is like standing near an oven while its turned on, you can feel the heat radiating through it from several feet away.

        1. Steve C says:

          I turned on my heater this morning. Coldest freaking summer I can remember. Stop hogging all that heat.

      3. Duneyrr says:

        Surprisingly only 98 here in the San Fernando Valley. Glad I’m not in AZ, though. Good luck to all our brothers and sisters across the river!

      4. Trix2000 says:

        There’s a reason I’ve been avoiding going outside lately, though the Bay Area hasn’t been quite that hot (close, but not quite).

    3. swenson says:

      Haha, that’s how it is in my area too! Most people are willing to suffer through a couple months of hot weather if it means they don’t freeze in winter. You need good windows, good insulation… all that stuff. A very different mindset!

  5. Cannibalguppy says:

    This was a amazing read! I am so glad it worked out in the end!

    Also its strange that as a norwegian just the thought of “how to cool it in summer” is alien :P though i have learned the downside to an apartment that is very easy to heat in winter :P

  6. Nalyd says:

    Can I give you a hug, Shamus?

  7. Arkady says:

    A house that’s hard to keep cool in summer is *much* nicer than a house that’s hard to warm in the winter.

    1. When it’s hot, you can open windows.
    2. It’s a good excuse to leave the house on nice days (if you need one [programmers always need an excuse to leave the house]).
    3. It tends to cool down a bit at night – the only time you *have* to be there.

    So looks like a win.

    1. MelTorefas says:

      I would tend to disagree with this. You can bundle up when it is cold, but there is only so much you can take off when it is hot. And opening the windows depends on the air outside being less hot than the air inside, which is certainly not always the case. Also, “going out” is not always a practical solution, due to time constraints, health issues, or lack of funds. I would consider it much preferable to have a place easy to cool than one easy to heat.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        Not to mention that it is, from a thermodynamic standpoint, easier to heat something than to cool it.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          From a thermodynamic standpoint, that depends on many, many factors. What the temperature outside is, what type of system you have installed, and where exactly you are situated in the building all play a factor.

          I know I have saved many a penny by living in an apartment as close to dead center of a complex, leeching heat off my neighbors in the winter and cooling off them in the summer, but that’s because I live in a fairly cool climate (or at least I did while I was in an apartment). The way they insulate the buildings, all the thermal resistance is between the exterior walls and the outside, so heat moves pretty freely between the units. That works great for a freeloader like me when the primary method of transfer is conduction/convection as on a cold day, but when the hot sun is shining in the windows it can get toasty.

          Thankfully, my comfort band is much wider than most people’s. Never would have worked if I depended on my PC though–there were a few times I had to shut down due to overheating of the CPU.

          1. Sabredance (MatthewH) says:

            I can’t speak to Thermodynamically, but as a matter of actual costs and technology, it is cheaper to cool from 100 to 70 F than to heat from 0 to 60. This was why the invention of reliable air conditioning caused an economic boom in the South. It doesn’t get as cold there, and air conditioning meant your workers wouldn’t be collapsing from the heat in the factories anymore.

          2. Alan says:

            I’ve lived in two apartments in Wisconsin, both second floor out of three, near the middle, where I had to open the windows occasionally during the winter because it was in the 80s. Presumably my neighbors weren’t running their heat that high. While weird, my heating bills were negligible.

            1. swenson says:

              Well, convenient for you at least, right?

          3. Humanoid says:

            To optimise the orientation of one’s home for ideal temperature control at all times, you merely need a rotating house.

            Although I’ll be honest – if I owned such a home, I’d leave it on rotating permanently for fun.

            1. Arkady says:

              There are a few observatories where the entire building rotates to track the night sky.

              These buildings are often built near cliff edges for airflow reasons.

              You have to be really careful – the door you came in through may suddenly have a big drop outside it, and you’ve just pulled an all-nighter :-/

      2. Taellosse says:

        You’re partly right, except that in most regions (including PA) where both are a concern, excessive heat is unpleasant but not often debilitating, while excessive cold can quite possibly cause illness or death. While it’s theoretically possible to “bundle up” when it’s cold, on a practical level, particularly for people who work and school at home like Shamus’ family do, that’s not really true. You need your hands free to do things like type, paint, write, sew, draw, etc. You probably need your face free to talk to each other. You need your ears free to hear. These are all extremities that are particularly vulnerable to cold, if it’s more than merely chilly.

        1. Shamus says:

          Although, in my case heat has the nasty side-effect of killing my creativity. Once the temp gets above 80F (27C) I get cranky and lethargic. Above 90f (32C) I’m basically unable to function.

          When it gets hot I can do work in the sense of sweeping floors or washing dishes, but I can’t do anything creative.

          1. Deadfast says:

            I have the same problem. Once it gets to 30 degrees European or above and it actually feels like it, my brain completely shuts down. Worse yet, I live in a small apartment that has windows only on one side, so no matter how many windows I open I’m not going to get any breeze. Funnily enough, the same brain that shuts down and prevents me from actually doing anything also completely refuses to actually let me fall asleep in such conditions, leading to even more concentration problems the next day.

            1. jarppi says:

              Lucky you. For me the limit is about 25 °C (77F). Any more than that and I’m not my ability to work is seriously decreased. Not no mention the 50% cut from my sleeping time. Around 28-30 °C, depending on the humidity, all my energy is just gone.

              (Protip: Alt + 0176 = ° )

              1. RCN says:

                Weakling northerners. It has to reach 35 ºC for us to even mind the heat. It needs to get to 40 ºC for us to really sweat in South America. Then again, we feel like we are frozen solid at around 12 ºC.

            2. X2-Eliah says:

              Yeah, same situation here. That’s why summers suck.

          2. Scampi says:

            I suffer from this as well (seems to be more common than I usually thought, since most people I know will complain about the cold weather as soon as the temperature drops below 20°C (68°F)). It hurts me to a degree that I calculated my college grades and realized my summer grades to be about more than an entire grade lower than my winter ones. Luckily, the winter ones are more numerous and valuable…
            This year, I’m lucky yet, since the temperatures suffered under the ‘bad’ rainy weather.

            On another note: as others said before: I’m glad things worked out for you and hope it stays this way.
            Good luck.

            @Deadfast: if you want to convert a temperature in °C into °F:
            (x*9/5) + 32 = °F where x is the temperature in °C
            in your case: 30°C converts to 86°F.
            You’re welcome;-)

          3. Kdansky says:

            I can totally relate, as our office building doesn’t have any air conditioning. But then again it would be pointless for about 51 weeks per year, as Switzerland is not known for its heat. I would recommend an electric fan to blow air around, a very cheap solution that helps a lot. And not wearing pants. That helps even more.

            1. Syal says:

              I recommend not wearing pants in general.

            2. Zak McKracken says:

              I’d recommend coming to work early, opening all the windows, enjoying some of the lovely early-morning breeze of fresh mountain air (Yodeling optional) and probably closing the windows again before your office mates come in and complain about the drafty room.
              I always find the hardest part to convince people not to open the windows around noon, when it’s much hotter outside than inside: Moving air != cool air
              Usually that’s where my method fails and I prefer having a hot office over having a loud argument with the person I have to get on with for eight hours every day.

          4. BlusterBlaster says:

            Same with me, only I get cranky and lethargic when it’s 21C (60F). Good thing the Netherlands is having is cool summer right now.

          5. rofltehcat says:

            I tend to switch my sleep cycles in hot weather to be awake the whole night and sleep through most of the day just to avoid heat and the sun as much as possible… only possible for students though I guess. I hope there’ll be AC once I start work… :/

            To me it looks like the only people who love hot weather are either very sportive people or very skinny people that are otherwise constantly freezing.

          6. Ilseroth says:

            I am able to be creative as long as I am able to walk. If I am sitting still so is my brain. Temperature, Sounds, Surroundings don’t matter. If I have room to walk my brain is going a hundred miles a minute.

        2. jarppi says:

          Cold conditions are just a matter of clothing. Assuming it is possible to keep the temperature in a reasonable readings inside you shoud be fine. By my experience 15 °C (59F) is the lowest manageable in long term. Lower that that and it really starts to be a problem.

          –while excessive cold can quite possibly cause illness or death.
          Cold doesn’t cause ilnesses straight away. When it is cold people tend to pack close in houses etc., which gives diseases a chance to spread. Freezing to death isn’t really a possibility unless you are a homeless quy. With a proper gear you can make it in really low temperatures for a long time, provided you have nutrition.

        3. harborpirate says:

          In the US, excessive heat does kill people, though I think this more strongly affects the southern states, such as where I live in the desert southwest.

          I tried looking up studies on which kills more, but all that came up was a bunch of global warming/anti-global warming rhetoric. As best I can figure out, it appears that cold is more deadly, but mostly due to it causing people to congregate more closely in warm spaces and spread disease. Direct deaths from exposure to cold appear to be slightly less than due to heat each year.

          All that to essentially support your argument (hopefully that refines it a little).

          This isn’t a very good metric, but of the most extremes I’ve ever felt, I think I would take the 118 degree asphalt furnace last year (Arizona) over the bone chilling cold of 35 below with the wind blowing at the school bus stop 20ish years ago (Montana). Still, I’d be happy avoiding both for the rest of my life.

          Continuing on this tangent, a list of odd things about both.

          Lungs crackle when super cold air creates a momentary layer of frost inside them. Breathing can actually be painful. Even ski gloves are next to worthless against 30 below if you’re not moving; you’re much better off in mittens. In super cold, keeping your nose warm is a huge pain. Zipping your ski jacket up all the way and breathing through your scarf and jacket can result in a frozen jacket zipper – highly annoying.

          Opening your oven isn’t enough to simulate hot temps. When its all around you there is an oppressive, midly claustrophobic feeling that it can give you. It is hard to describe the odd sensation of how hot air makes your eyeballs feel hotter than the rest of your face. Strange as it seems, if the temp goes over 110, I wear tennis shoes, because in sandals, toes can get so hot that it becomes painful.

          Oh, and in either one, don’t pick up something metal with your bare hands.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            I’m wondering about death rates and causes in dry heat versus humid heat. I know heat index is MUCH higher in humid heat, but since it’s humid I would guess that dehydration is much less likely, but perhaps heat exhaustion is more likely?

            And now I’m curious why humidity makes heat feel hotter… I suppose because the water in the air has more energy to transfer to your body, thus making it harder to keep cool, so the same reason that hot water feels hotter than hot air. (Yes, I just answered my own question. Tell me if I’m wrong, though)

            1. Mrs. Peel says:

              Aldowyn, it’s at least partly because the evaporation of sweat has a cooling effect, and in high-humidity environments such as here in Houston, sweat doesn’t evaporate – it just stays on you.

              As for the people who think you can just put more clothes on when you’re cold, that’s not true for all of us. When I was 9 months pregnant in Houston in August, I still wore a sweatshirt in my office nearly every day and periodically had to go outside to stand in the sun so my fingers could warm up enough to type.

              1. Alan says:

                Seconded. When it’s 76 degrees, my wife is wearing a sweater and thin gloves and she’ll have her hands going numb from the cold. Meanwhile I’m comfortable in a t-shirt. Since moving into a house, our heating bills are not cheap.

          2. jarppi says:

            Intersting. Unsuprisingly prefering hot / cold is very subjective. Without second questions I would totally take those pleasantly cool temeperatures around 0 °C (32F), if the other option is mind melting 48 °C (118F). My question: how does one can sleep in those readings? Does it drop after sunset or are there some other solutions? I mean I can’t sleep well in 25 °C (77F) or above, 30 °C (86F) making it almost imbossibe.

            No offense, but I found it very amusing when you descibed 2 °C (35F) “bone chilling cold”. But then again, I live in Finland so I’d call anything between -25 °C (-13F) and +25 °C (77F) “normal”. In winters -15 °C (5F) is comfort limit, below that and it you really need to pay attention to your clothing. Your chin gets easily stiff around -20 °C (-4F). Your nose isn’t really in danger that easily, I’ve never needed to cover it. It doesn’t feel nice but it isn’t in immediate danger. The lowest temperatures I’ve been in are somewhere between -35…-40 °C (-31…-40F). Keeping warm in those conditios takes some practice, no joking. But it is manageable. Even if you are, as I was, in a forest for a few days and sleeping in a tent.

            Btw. Would you kindly put those readings in both celsius (°C) and fahrenheit (F)? People here are used to use different units.

            1. bucaneer says:

              He said “35 below”: -35 °F, or -37 °C. “Bone chilling cold” is a decent description of that temperature, I’d say.

              1. jarppi says:


                Darn, I should have read that more carefully. Somewhy I understood that as “35 or below”. Propably due to reading too many technical / scientific documents lately.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “1. When it's hot, you can open windows.”

      And let the heat in?

      “2. It's a good excuse to leave the house on nice days”

      But cold days are nice days.Especially when theres snow outside.

    3. Mormegil says:

      I have an American friend who once told me she got colder in Brisbane than anywhere else in the world. I said that sounded pretty funny considering she comes from a place with snow. She said it was because all our houses are so heavily designed around keeping cool in summer that they have no way of retaining any warmth at all in winter – in South Carolina it might be snowing outside but you can rely on your house to keep you warm.

      1. Humanoid says:

        I’m from the southern states, so I don’t know how it is up there, but I’m not sure how that’d work. A well designed and insulated home both keeps the warmth in during winter, and out during the summer.

        Aside, me being a cheapskate, I only ever use a heater on workday mornings, where a timer turns it on a quarter-hour before my alarm, and turns it off a quarter-hour later. Winter nights where it drops below zero (I know that’s nothing for a lot of you non-Aussies) I just go around with a doona (er, quilt/duvet) wrapped around me.

        1. Mormegil says:

          Lots of more modern houses are designed the way you describe but the classic house in Queensland is the Queenslander. All wood,mounted on posts, all doorways have a little open section above them – all designed so that any breeze at all has a chance of making it through the house.

          1. Dave B. says:

            That actually sounds a lot like my old house in northern Brazil. We would joke that we only had one window – it started on the left side of the front door and ended on the right. (All screen; the only room that had glass was the office, to protect our electronics from the humidity.) The house stayed very comfortable, except a few times every year when we got a cold front out of the south and the temperature dropped to about 50-60 F (10-15 C), and we just had to be cold because the wind blew straight through the entire house.

  8. ENC says:

    Very interesting story. I suppose it makes me want to click those ads a little more for the hell you’ve been through the past few years.

    1. Fleaman says:

      I got an ad for Chinese dating. “ChnLove Date”.

      I’ll click on a different ad, maybe.

  9. Hurray! says:

    Glad to hear that this ended well. I’m sorry about the bankruptcy, that’s really a pain.

    Our family went through something similar years ago, and wound up having to rent out our first house until we could sell it (still at a loss) when we had to move for a better job. In the ‘it could always be worse’ department, at least you don’t have to pay for rent on a new place *and* pay the mortgage on the old place. That was the pits.

    Also, are there any plans to publish another novel? I really liked Witch Watch and would be glad to buy something else by you.

    1. Bloodsquirrel says:

      He’s mentioned one in the diecast before, but he’s letting it slow bake.

  10. anaphysik says:

    Shamus, does your desktop screensaver/wallpaper/whatever – here: – say “chibi mecha [meekaa]”? [ちび メーカー]

    I see what looks like a Spidey poster on the far wall (which makes sense, given how iirc you said you were always a fan of Spidey) and what looks like a dry-erase grid for tabletops; what’re the other decorations?

    1. Shamus says:

      That’s actually Esther’s screen. :) My screen is on the opposite side of the desk, just off-screen to the left from the perspective of this picture. The grid dry-erase board is beside me. (We’re still trying to figure out where and how to hang it.) Beside the dry-erase is a (signed) MC Frontalot poster from PAX 2011. To the right of that is Heather’s screen. Behind Heather’s screen is Captain America poster. To the right of that is one of my vintage computer posters.

      1. BeamSplashX says:

        This sounds like the best office EVER.

      2. Mephane says:

        Now you made me want to see that vintage computer poster. :D

        1. Aldowyn says:

          I’m pretty sure he’s talking about that poster with all the red.. things (presumably the ‘vintage computers’ that were mentioned :P) on it.

    2. Lovecrafter says:

      Just a technicality: From the looks of the picture, I’d say that it’s not “chibi mecha”, but “chibi maker”.

      1. anaphysik says:

        I would have expected “maker” to be 「メイカー」 instead (I also simply wasn’t sure what the katakana was intended to transcribe, and didn’t find anything useful by googling, and so guessed something that fit the transcription well enough and that wasn’t totally unreasonable (and is one reason why I included the transcription there in the first place)).

        That being said, looking up “chibi maker” (giving, frex, this result, which is a potential origin: certainly seems to substantiate your interpretation. (Additionally, it appears that “mecha” is usually written 「メカ」 instead :/. Double additionally, wiktionary corroborates 「メーカー」 for “maker.”)

        So yeah, you’re right. STILL, I think we can all agree that Shamus is /undoubtedly/ dodging the question by deflecting the usage of the monitor onto one of his daughters.

        EDIT: I presume that this is in moderation because of the highly contentious and charged nature of debates regarding ‘proper’ katakana transcription. YOU’LL NEVER SILENCE ME, MODERATION FILTERS ignoring this instance wherein you obviously did NEVERRRRR!

        1. Scampi says:

          I would have expected “maker” to be 「メイカー」 instead

          For a (very abbreviated) explanation: Katakana don’t prolong e-vowels by adding “i”, but by using the 「ー」 sign.
          Your transcription would be (partly) adequate if you were talking about hiragana, where you’d add an “i” after an “e”-vowel to prolong the latter. Same goes in katakana for all vowels.

          Edit: Uh…now I feel stupid-just now I see what you were trying to convey there-.- need more refreshments…to defend myself: spent some time with a few Japanese people lately and got totally used to their ways of transcription^^

          1. anaphysik says:

            I know how vowels are prolonged EDIT: and I now see form your edit that you understood that you were misunderstanding me and blahblahblah.

            I had a whole big post on vowel elongation rules, the substantial number of exceptions to those rules, how regardless of any of that I was talking about transcribing a diphthong (/eɪ/ not /e:/) /anyway/, and how ultimately in practice that diphthong is transcribed in multiple ways (both ways that we mention, plus even occasionally as just ‘e’!)…

            Except then it all got deleted, perhaps because the damn site tried to interpret the final character of my “<_<" emote as some HTML tag crazyness (along with the frequent Japanese quotation marks in the post? and maybe some interference from the IPA virgules?) and borked everything -_-. Deserved? Maybe, I dunno, let's be friends instead :D

            1. Aldowyn says:

              BTW, this is about what every other conversation with anaphysik devolves into eventually. Him complaining about diphthongs. Just so you know.

              1. anaphysik says:

                It’s not even physically possible for me to contest that assertion, it’s so true.

                Also, I’ve just realized that I don’t talk *NEARLY* enough about diphthongs on Disclosure Alert. Need to correct that soon.

      2. Scampi says:

        Actually, you’re right: Mecha in Japanese spells メカ (meka), while ちび メーカー (really: chibi maker) is, apparently, some kind of flash dressup game which can be found here(and I think, also in other places):
        I don’t have any stake in advertising it, just thought it’d be interesting to research it, once it was brought up here.

        1. anaphysik says:

          (Haha, sucker, ninja assist by the moderation filters! Now don’t you look silly, making the same valid, relevant, equally researched points but only a few minutes later! That was a joke.)

          1. Scampi says:

            Indeed…but if you need any help on katakana transcription: feel free to ask the silly guy;)

            And, btw: Now I feel the charged nature of the topic as well-I think it should be banned for exclusivity, ideological charge and religious offense. It also invites trolls and such…too risky having it around;)

            1. anaphysik says:

              And thus spake Shamusthustra: Never shalt twain sea critters argue semi-furiously-but-in-a-still-fairly-civilized-manner over the finer and oft unstandardized points of Japanese orthography.

        2. Esther used this : to make all the colors into chibis, giving each color the personality that is associated with it. I think she made grey, black, white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, and brown. They were adorable.

          1. anaphysik says:

            Yes, that’s a mirror of the link that Scampi & I independently posted. It appears to be quite a popular tool.

      3. fenix says:

        I’d have to agree with this. That’s what I got when I read it.

        1. tengokujin says:

          Level up!
          Fenix learned katakana!
          (I’m allowed to make fun of fenix because he’s allowed to make fun of me :3)

  11. Adam says:

    A very interesting story, Shamus, although it couldn’t have come at a worse time. I’m on the verge of finally moving out of my parents’ house at the tender age of 22, by which I mean I’ve started looking for apartments on the cheap as I figure out what bank I can even halfway trust since I’ll be opening a new bank account separate from theirs. This story did not exactly fill me with confidence in either regard. Glad to hear things worked out well for you, at least.

    1. Hurray! says:

      I’ve had good experiences with credit unions. Do you or your parents qualify for any credit unions through work, etc? Aside from that, I’ve found that local banks are more personable and flexible than large national banks. But YMMV as always.

      1. Taellosse says:

        I second Hurray – credit unions and local banks tend to be better, particularly for basic banking needs like checking and savings accounts. They’re less likely to charge you nasty fees, they tend to have largely comparable convenience services (debit cards, ATM access, online banking), and don’t treat you like nothing more than a source of income for them. They can be a bit more of a pain to deal with when you’re looking for loans – they tend to be more conservative in their lending practices – but when you’re just starting out on your own, that’s not usually a major concern.

        Though you didn’t exactly ask for any, my general advice is to try to stay away from too much debt (especially if you’ve already got some from student loans). A lot of people (including me, back when) when they start out will find themselves with a credit card and make the mistake of treating that like free money – it isn’t. If you can’t afford to buy something, paying for it on credit just means you’re going to pay MUCH more for it over time. For almost everything but an emergency or an absolute necessity, it’s better to save money up yourself and wait to buy things, rather than putting them on a credit card. It’s safe to use a credit card for regular purchases if you keep track of what you’re buying with it and are confident you can pay it off when the bill comes in (no interest that way), but it’s REALLY important that you’re careful about that. It’s very easy for $100 here and $50 there to get out of hand, and suddenly you’re carrying thousands of dollars in debt with an 18% compound interest rate. Credit cards aren’t automatically evil – they’re more secure for things like internet purchases than a debit card, and they can be life-savers when something unexpected happens, like your car’s transmission implodes and you suddenly have a $1,000 repair bill – but they’re a dangerous tool you have to treat with care.

        Hope that didn’t come off as patronizing, if you already know it. I just kind of wish I’d had someone explain that to me (in a way in which I would listen) when I got my first credit cards.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          I would agree with the advice about credit unions/local banks above, conditioned upon the fact that you don’t plan on moving much. My account is with a regional bank that covers my half of the country, while my wife’s is with a local bank in our old hometown. While she gets better rates, we moved a lot in areas that aren’t our old hometown, and every time it caused problems with her bank while it was seamless for me.

          She still hasn’t had a chance to get them to change the name on her account since we’ve been married, and is seriously considering closing the account and opening one with a bank like mine so she can eliminate the overhead.

      2. Scampi says:

        Still thinking of the previous episode, I misread “credit unions” as “credit unicorns”…I wondered, where you’d found them and imagined the Molly Grue scene from the last unicorn…

        Molly: No, it can’t be. Can it be? Where have you been? Where have you been? Damn you! Where have you been?
        Schmendrick: Don’t you talk to her that way!
        Credit Unicorn: I’m here now.
        Molly: And where were you twenty years ago? Ten years ago? Where were you when I needed to loan money? When I was one of those innocent young maidens trying to start an enterprise? How dare you! How dare you come to me now, when I am broke and have a bad credit like this!

    2. Abnaxis says:

      I have had terrible experience with 5/3rd bank. I recently moved to a new state, which necessitated transfer of our auto title so we could the car registered. Since we are a few months from having the car paid off, 5/3rd has the title.

      It took 2 months to get them to get off their asses, during which time we had to pay for two temporary tags, one of which was actually illegal but the guy at the BMV took pity on us. What caused all the hullabaloo, you ask? A $20 transfer fee (a service that is usually free). See, we called the bank and they told us to fill out all the required paperwork, but didn’t mention the fee. Note that we had to go to a branch to pick up the paperwork, because they deliberately do not make the forms available online.

      Three weeks and no transfer later, we call the bank, only to find they shredded the documents we sent because we didn’t send them $20, and neglected to tell us. In total, they did this twice. They did it again because they didn’t like the way we paid them on the second try–apparently they wouldn’t take a check as payment, only money order/cashier’s check.

      We spent well over $100 on temporary tags just so they nickel-and-dime us for a $20 fee. Bear in mind, we are excellent debtors, never missing a payment on a loan that has netted them over $5,000 in interest.

      I have made a vow since then, that if that is how 5/3rd treats good paying customers who are already giving them a tidy profit, I will never do business with them again and I will advise anyone who asks to avoid them as well. Hence this reply.

      1. Bryan says:

        Yeah, 5/3 just recently “lost” a ~$10k account of mine as well. (Or whatever “not sending any more statements” means.) Of course I’m three timezones west of them (the account is left over from when I wasn’t; I’d been draining it slowly while direct-depositing into the one in the correct state, with a local credit union), so it’s not like I can walk into a branch and figure out wtf is going on, either.

        If I can get this figured out, I’m closing that account and moving all of it to the correct state in one shot. It’s not worth the stupid.


  12. kurt henning says:

    Shamus, I’m glad to hear that things are looking better for you all. Now, in the tradition of the Greek tragedies, where’s our satyr play?

    [Can anyone tell me where/how the site grabs icons? I haven’t used that image in over a year. Since it is a screen grab of an image from a Nero Wolfe episode, I know it isn’t just floating around the internet.]

    1. anaphysik says:

      It’s a gravatar image, which is tied to your e-mail. (This is ignoring wavatars, because it’s obviously showing a gravatar image, specifically

      If that’s an old image, then I’m guessing you typed in an old e-mail :/. That, or you just forgot about having a gravatar.

    2. TheAngryMongoose says:

      They come from Gravatar I believe.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Heres one interesting tip for others that may be on an apartment hunt:
    Find an expanding neighborhood,and buy one thats in the process of being built.It slashes the price incredibly,and if you get it early,most firms will let you customize things like sockets,wall colors,etc.

  14. Abnaxis says:

    Ever since you started this series, it has baffled me that all of this was going on while I was reading your blog. Were I you, and I had all the extraneous stressors in my life that you did, the blog would have been the first thing to go.


    1. krellen says:

      The blog was/is Shamus’s livelihood. Abandoning it would’ve made things worse.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        You say that like it was a foregone conclusion that this blog would be self-supporting. From what I understand, that’s a more recent development…

        1. The blog was one of our only sources of income- that and his books plus my art and websites and whatever people randomly decided to bless us with. Now we have a a little more income from another source but it isn’t permanent.

          1. Akri says:

            That is both terrifying and heartwarming.

          2. Galad says:

            As a lowly IT ‘specialist’ in Eastern Europe, it still baffles me how you all, a family of 5, can live (relatively OK, if not easily?) with irregular income sources like these.

            Sure, I know at least a couple of people around, in my country, who also live off of irregular incomes like this, but still..I guess it depends on what you can/want to do for a living.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      I said much the same thing on an earlier post.. but Shamus has been writing this blog for more than half a decade, I don’t think a little old thing like having a house foreclosed on is going to kill it :P

  15. Tizzy says:

    It appears that it is an appropriate juncture to quote from Terry Pratchett (Men At Arms)

    A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

    But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
    This was the Captain Samuel Vimes “˜Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness.

    1. MichaelG says:

      The exact same thing happens to people who buy crappy cars at discount “no one turned away” auto places.

    2. Mephane says:

      If it were only that simple. It’s easy to buy something that, to the best of your knowledge, looks like quality well worth a higher price tag, only for it to last less than an alternative product that may have cost a fifth of the price.

      I speak from experience, particularly with shoes.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Funny thing is, there is a strong financial incentive to make higher cost products out of shoddier materials. I know this from experience in my years engineering, that it is done on purpose.

        See, cheaper items have less margin built in and sell much larger quantities. That means you want the smallest failure rate that your price point will allow–high failure rates lead to large numbers of returns for repair, on a product with little profit built in to cover the costs for the technician to refurbish it.

        High price items, on the other hand, sell smaller quantities with much higher profit in the price, so most outfits I’ve seen will skimp on the materials to lower costs and eke out even more profit. With the repair costs built into the price, the only real loss from the drop in quality is the perception of your brand, which is much more dependent on your marketing and the performance of your lower-tiered models anyway (most people look at the lower cost model as a worst case for quality, when actual manufacturer behavior is the opposite).

        I remember when I took risk analysis in college, the number quoted for refrigerator failure rates was something like 0.25% for the $750 model and 10-20% for the $5,000 model. Those numbers seem roughly close to what I’ve seen in every engineering job I’ve worked in across multiple fields.

        1. Mephane says:

          Woah, I did not know this. I just assumed that there is a quality spread within a price range as large as one between price ranges. Even though I knew that some products are designed to last just as long as the warranty, and fail as soon after that as possible.

        2. X2-Eliah says:

          Hm. So. Better to buy a ‘Fapple iPhony 6gs’ than an “Apple iPhone 5”?

          1. Abnaxis says:

            Well, it’s more like “don’t pay extra for extra’s sake.” There is likely a quality difference between brands, but if you’re mulling over grabbing the Apple Hi-Rez 4.5″ for $200 and the Apple Retina 5″ for $700, realize there’s probably going to be a drop in durability and reliability that comes hand-in-hand with those extra pixels. The same goes for a $200 NVidia video card versus a $500 one, or a $600 Dell computer versus a $2000 one.

            Most of my experience from the manufacturing side is with industrial controls–my previous company’s bread-and-butter model is a little $35 thing (they sell about 50,000 of them a month), which I routinely see installed and still working 20-30 years after it was bought. Their snazzy new digital wireless $600 wondermeter (they sell about 25 a month), OTOH, winds up being returned as an expensive paperweight on arrival a sixth of the time.

            The engineering for the $35 gauge was absolutely sacred–no changes could be made in design, materials, or manufacturing without getting every department in the company to give input first. Meanwhile, the “high end” model was the product of a single experienced engineer who split his time between that and three other products, and got laid off a year before I started work there. Thereafter, the sole responsibility for the product got passed on to the newest engineer who this was his first job since college. The contrast was quite stark.

            1. Tizzy says:

              Here I was just sharing some Funny Pratchett lines, I never imagined I would get to learn something new and surprising from it. Gotta love this blog and the community that keeps it so lively and interesting. Thanks for sharing!

        3. Alan says:

          And this, we’re assured by economists, is both the most efficient practical solution and exactly what we desire. :-/

        4. Asimech says:

          No place is safe from meta-gaming. Alas, the real-world can’t be patched for balance issues.

          Well, in a way we could, but if you put three people in a room you’ll get four[sic] ideas on how to do it and a heated argument.

      2. This is where knowing which brands make crap for an exorbitant price and which brands make quality for a decent price comes in. Shopping used for specific brands you know are quality, and knowing exactly what you are looking for and what it is worth to you is key. (I say this as one who only buys 1 brand of shoes and then only on clearance or at thrift shops unless I find something that is perfect fit and style for a $1.)

  16. Irridium says:

    I’m glad this story has a happy(ish) ending.

  17. Tizzy says:

    So, I guess the jury is still out on the incompetence vs. malevolence on the part of the bank. It certainly opened my eyes on the futility of trying to expect a large entity like a bank to have understandable motives similar to an individual’s.

    On another note: here is hoping that the heat won’t fry your precious electronics too much. I’ve had trouble before: computers would simply shut down until the AC was turned back on. :-(

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      They hurt themselves more than they hurt Shamus. Even if there was an intention of malevolence, this is clearly incompetence. So I guess you could say this bank is a comic book supervillain.

      1. Tizzy says:

        I guess you may have missed the animated discussions on the last post, where a variety of hypotheses were floated that made the bank more evil than incompetent. In particular, a variety of accounting considerations and/or bank bailout shenanigans sounded plausible.

        BTW, I am not an accountant, but all of my colleagues who know business tell me that the US has been actively resisting the adoption of sane(r) accounting principles, which makes the accounting story hard to immediately dismiss.

        As illustrated by News of the Weird

        Unfortunately, Manulife Financial Corp. is a Canadian firm, and thus it had a very bad year. If exactly the same company had been magically relocated to anywhere in the United States, it would have had an outstanding year. Under Canada’s hard-nosed accounting rules, Manulife was forced to post a loss last year of $1.28 billion. However, under the more feel-good U.S. accounting rules, according to the company, it would have shown a profit of $2.2 billion and been flush with $16 billion more in shareholder value.

        1. Steve C says:

          Related- The whole Enron scandal was due to crazy accounting. Rolling back-outs in California? – crazy accounting. Sane accounting principles are necessary especially for the people who don’t think they are a good idea.

        2. Deoxy says:

          and I guess you missed all the comments on multiple threads about how the system is so complex the bank has a hard time determining what is in its own best interest, and that it’s nigh-impossible for us to do so.

          As I’ve stated several times, it’s quite possible that the best thing for the bank, financially, was to have Shamus continue to live there rent-free for a good bit longer, and that the next best was the auction.

          Government intervention creates ridiculous and counter-intuitive incentives like that all the time.

          1. The government intervention point is technically true, but kind of misleading.
            First thing, it creates ridiculous and counter-intuitive incentives more when there is regulatory capture involved (ie the companies controlling their own incentives). So the problem is less government intervention and more unaccountable private influence over government intervention.

            Second, when there is no government intervention the incentives are, yes, sane simple and intuitive, but that’s not an improvement: The incentive becomes simply to steal all your stuff by whatever means available.

            Note that in the Canada/US example above, the distinction was not that the Canadian side had less government intervention, but that the Canadian government intervention was driven more by the public interest in sound accounting and less by the corporate interest in getting away with stuff. Not that Canada maintains such distinctions universally, no, not by a long shot.

            1. Deoxy says:

              First thing, it creates ridiculous and counter-intuitive incentives more when there is regulatory capture involved (ie the companies controlling their own incentives). So the problem is less government intervention and more unaccountable private influence over government intervention.

              Regulatory capture is assumed – it always happens over time. It’s also the completely rational and expected response – if some government entity had ENORMOUS power over your business, such that they could choose, basically on a whim, whether it was your business or your competitor that did well or poorly, getting involved with said entity is called “self preservation”.

              Second, when there is no government intervention the incentives are, yes, sane simple and intuitive, but that's not an improvement: The incentive becomes simply to steal all your stuff by whatever means available.

              “Get stuff, by any means that works” is always the incentive, all the time. Almost any government intervention beyond simple contract enforcement eventually becomes a means to steal MORE stuff, not less. It becomes a “means” that works better than following the law – the law is what you use to hobble your competitors (see the snafu on lead in children’s toys from a few years ago – the end result was BENEFICIAL to the large company that actually made those toys).

              Contract enforcement is a government function. Protection of life and property are a function of government. Precious little else really is.

              1. EmmEnnEff says:

                I think it’s a stretch to find any contract enforcement to be simple. Especially when externalities (That bipartite contracts fail to address by design) are involved.

    2. Humanoid says:

      The desk-fan-into-the-open-side-of-your-case method of computer troubleshooting, yes. Usually the first suggestion when someone runs into intermittent hardware issues under load.

  18. Ingvar says:

    So, the thing wot I sent was probably a good thing to have sent, when I sent it. I hope it saw some good use!

  19. Mephane says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Shamus. Even though we all knew that it would turn out well for you and your family, I was still excited to learn when, and how.


    Everyone lost. In fact, this was the maximally most destructive outcome for all parties.

    Well there is another hypothesis of mine (other than Vogons being behind it all): the very point might have been for the person who won the auction to sell it for profit later on, and someone in the bank helped make sure this would happen. Yes, that would most likely be illegal, but far more unlikely schemes have happened where dude at company X manages to enable deal for personal friend Y by utilizing/manipulating company resources.

    1. Might have been except it is clear that the people who bought just picked it up then left it. It is sitting there, up for sale, nothing at all done to it besides cleaning out (wasn’t much left anyway.) The roof leaks horribly in multiple places, the water leaks enough that even with water not in use it is $65 a month, and so on. The basement has perpetual water damage due to leakage. I feel very sorry for whoever bought it thinking it was a good deal.

    2. Steve C says:

      My theory is that the bank sold off the mortgage years ago and was just administrating. If true, this was the best outcome for the bank. And I mean not just the best given the circumstances but the actual best outcome possible.

      Twist: Someone else has started a blog about this house that they bought at auction that is a money pit.

      1. Deoxy says:

        Actually, if that was true, Shamus staying longer would have been better for the bank.

  20. Everyone needs an Ethan.

    “And where you couldn't just “cure” poverty by bulldozing low-income housing. That's pretty messed up if you think about it.”

    Depending on how cynical the circles you move in are, this can be seen as modelling one of the motives behind urban beautification projects.

    1. Mephane says:

      The word you are looking for is gentrification. It’s a highly political topic, however, so we should stop here.

      1. That’s the one, and yes, I probably shouldn’t have brought it up.

      2. Christian Severin says:

        The word you are looking for is gentrification. It's a highly political topic, however, so we should stop here.

        No kidding. Just google for “gentrification Andrej Holm”…

  21. Phil says:

    Bonus points for the Police Box up there in that one picture.

    1. Yah! Someone caught that. Yes, that is our unfinished police box (still needs a notice on the left door and light for the top.)

      1. SteveDJ says:

        I was just going to say “TARDIS — Squeeeee” (wait? Am I allowed to squeee”?)

        While our daughter was out to camp last summer, we painted her bedroom door blue, drew some lines and added a couple decals, to transform it into a TARDIS!

    2. MichaelG says:

      I was surprised by that, since I thought Shamus had never gotten into Dr. Who.

      1. krellen says:

        IIRC, Shamus isn’t a huge Who fan, but the rest of his family digs it, so he watches it anyway. Or something like that.

    3. Steve C says:

      I really like the post box too. It’s not only nerd-cool, it also makes the room appear bigger (at least in the photo) from the false perspective.

  22. Dreckmal says:

    Shamus, long time lurker, just wanted to say thank you for posting this blog. I am glad to hear that things resolved in such a way that little real harm was done to your family. I have been reading the blog long enough that I feel like a part of the family (I know I’m not, hope this doesn’t come off as creepy).

    Keep on rockin’ in the Nerd World man. Really enjoy your writing style.

  23. S.E. Batt says:

    Good to hear everything turned out in the end! It’s weird to think that, as I read your blog posts all these years, there was a lot of turmoil going on in the background. Regardless, any mistake that you can get yourself back out of is a good one!

  24. guy says:

    I officially give up. I am entirely out of ideas for what the bank could possibly have been thinking.

  25. kmc says:

    Can’t help but wonder who else is thinking of the post from 26 Jun, “An Exercise of Prosecutorial Discretion”, or any of the source statements from former employees.

    EDIT: Which is to say, there is certainly a political bent to that post and the whole site, and my intention is more to wonder whether this could have been happening during the whole saga, not to get into the politics of banks.

    1. Shamus says:

      Yeah, a lot of people forwarded that link to me. For the curious, the link is this one:

      We were dealing with a different bank, but I wonder if this is a similar problem. I still don’t get how unloading at auction is better than a willing cash buyer, but either way it’s still a strange thing.

      1. Namfoodle says:

        I think the bias that banks have against a short sale buyer is their fear of fraud. They have more faith in the auction process, even if the short-term economic cost is higher.

        The shenanigans related to poisoning HAMP workouts are probably due to the fear of a major upset in their business environment. They don’t want it to become easy for folks to change their mortgage terms, because that will make it harder for banks to sell loans or even put a value on them internally.

        “This loan is worth x, unless the borrower is unlucky (or skeezy), then it might be worth x-?” It’s an additional bit of uncertainty they don’t want to have to figure out.

        I think the banks may be worried that a precedent may be set where folks over-borrow for a house that is a bit more than they can afford hoping that they can force a concession from the bank down the road and keep the house.

        Banks like the “foreclosure-hammer” because it means folks are much less likely to jerk them around when it comes to real estate loans.

        1. That seems plausible. Banks probably fear fraud a lot. Extreme fear of fraud is, no doubt, one of the downsides of being a fraud artist oneself.

  26. StartRunning says:

    Thanks, Shamus. That was nice. I appreciate the honesty and as always, your writing style. Glad everything turned out.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      This, +1, I agree, etc. Well done Shamus. I hope living on the edge of The Island leads to many more interesting tales in the future. Crazy neighbors are good for that.

  27. some random dood says:

    Was thinking about clicking an ad or two for support, but as they were for and – well, I didn’t. (I know I had just searched for some stuff about DDO, but for both adverts to be for asian dating/marriage sites…)
    Anyway, thought you might like to know in case you may want to tweak any settings.

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      That’s way more interesting than mine. Google Play advert, and one for some place that apparently sells embroidered fraternity house clothing. I’m already a “customer” of one and long past the target market for the other.

    2. Another Random Dood says:

      I got an ad for income insurance; very appropriate for the page I’m on. Do I get a prize for the most spot-on ad?

  28. bigben1985 says:

    What I’m taking away from this is:

    – Do a math to your finances
    – Don’t trust that banks are competent
    – Shamus’ life is a-ok now, and I can sleep better now (seriously, I suspected a happy ending, but was a bit worried for you nonetheless)

    and most importantly:
    Shamus has three hands
    (“I don't want to rush this next decision. On the other hand, I need to make a decision soon. On the gripping hand, this feels right.”)

    1. James Bennett says:

      The expression comes from a science fiction book about aliens with three hands. The expression has become popular among Larry Niven fans.

      Of course, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that Shamus is himself a three-handed alien.

      1. bigben1985 says:

        I was dimly aware that there is a backstory to this expression. Thanks for the link, I’m gonna read this series :D I’m in need of a good Sci-Fi Story.

        Btw Shamus, how is that book coming along? It sounds like it’s right up my alley :D

  29. neolith says:

    I’m glad to see you guys are ok. Thanks a lot for sharing that story.

    Oh, and I love that TARDIS! :)

  30. Aldowyn says:

    The background is twitching and it’s driving me NUTS. (just up and down a bit every few seconds)

    And I’m glad it ended fairly well, sounds like you’re doing okay in the new house. (new indeed, February 2013!) Hopefully the next few years go better than the last few, eh?

  31. Thanks for sharing, Shamus! I’ve actually taken away a few things from reading this. Good read as always.

    Wishing you all the best in your new place for years to come!

  32. jamie kerr says:

    Ok you and Heather have earned a new theme song:;
    congrats on making it this far and being one of the most awesome couples ive read about

  33. Bryan says:

    I had the same sort of thing happen to me. First it a was minor illness which grew into a larger problem the longer it went. My income slowly but steadily declined, then I lost my job. However, I had one extreme stroke of luck: my neighbor was one of those people who buys and flips houses. Seeing the potential in the house, he helped me through the short sale, found a cooperative real estate agent, AND dealt with the bank. Since my health is an issue he showed me how to file for a tax leniency. He even paid a bit more than current (low) market value to the bank. (Still less than I owed, though.) He was a big help, and I have a much smaller black spot on my financial record than a foreclosure. He was three unicorns in one, and he got the job done.

  34. The Nick says:

    I’m conflicted between extreme anger at the banking institution’s activities and relief at way it all turned out. Either way, it’s good to hear a happy ending.

  35. newdarkcloud says:

    All’s well that ends well. I’m happy for you and your family.

  36. RichVR says:

    Oxycotton. That would be cotton supercharged with oxygen. I think you meant oxycodone which is what your link calls it.

    1. Shamus says:

      Oxycotton (or just “oxies”) are the slang name. It’s like weed vs. marijuana.

      1. Atarlost says:

        I always thought Oxycotton was a brand of Acne medicine. Presumably one originally sold impregnated into cotton swabs.

      2. Khizan says:

        “Oxycontin” is a time-release oxycodone pill.

        I’ve never heard of oxycotton.

        1. Shamus says:

          Interesting. The nickname must be fairly local, then. It’s usually said as “Oxycotton” or “Oxycotts”.

          1. I hadn’t heard that slang either, but I kind of assumed it was slang for that. Really, what else could it have been?
            (Oh, right, those oxygen-charged cotton swabs) ;)

  37. Neko says:

    Saw the title, immediately thought of Lost. Nooo, Shamus, don’t go to The Island!

    Anyway, thanks for the story, and I’m glad you guys are ok now. If I had known back then that you were having so much trouble, I’d have enabled the AdBlock exception a lot sooner. (I can’t apologise for having AdBlock installed in the first place: the web is just a terrible place without it).

  38. Rob Lundeen says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Shamus. As a long-time reader I’ve been with you through most of these struggles without even knowing. I really appreciate the openness you’ve shown. So many people are going through similar problems and it’s important for everyone to know they are not alone and that it can get better. I wish I was in a better place financially and could throw a little moolah your way. Keep up the awesome. :)

  39. ooli says:

    I remember your post when you were moving. You were afraid. I didnt know the whole story was 12 years long journey.

    It’s kind of sad how a talented young man, with a 100 pages hilarious comics known worldwide,and a few video game engine up his sleeve cant afford to live in the house he had.

  40. Tuck says:

    The best thing about you telling this story is that there are a whole lot of young(er) people who’ll learn from your mistakes. :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  41. caiman says:

    Just out of curiosity, what were the effort rates (i.e. the ratio between the mortgage payments and your revenue) of both the old house and the new one? This is the difference between a sustainable situation and an unsustainable one.

    This is helpful information for all the people thinking of buying a house (me included).

    However, it is very personal and private information, and I won’t blame you if you decide not to reveal it.

  42. asterismW says:

    Loved this series! Your narratives on your life are some of your best work. :)

  43. LoveYaWork says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this.
    Very brave for you to share, very enthralling to read.

  44. Phantom Hoover says:

    So is little Dax named after the symbiont, the German stock exchange or Bill Bailey’s Indonesian friend?

  45. Cuthalion says:

    Thanks to everyone who stuck around and read my work over all these years. We've got a good thing going here.

    My pleasure. :)

  46. Supernal Clarity says:

    Your casual mention of D&D brings up something I’ve been curious about for a long time: would you ever consider running/playing in another D&D campaign some time? I’m sure there are probably lots of obstacles to such a thing, but if somehow the stars aligned to grant you the perfect opportunity, would you chronicle a D&D game again?

    Your campaign logs are what first brought me here years ago when I was just learning to DM myself, and although I still love to follow most of the stuff you post nowadays, I sometimes miss those good times.

  47. Fennel says:

    Wow. I am sitting here, still reeling over how much I learned in an afternoon, which you learned over a span of 12 years :D
    That being said, I salute your ability to endure over the years!
    Now I know of many things to take note of when looking to find my own place some day ~

  48. Ethan says:

    The “oxycotton” thing is much the same as Worcestershire sauce. Take the original names for the drugs “Oxycontin” and “Oxycodone” and say the words really fast without actually ever seeing the words spelled out and repeat that in a hickish town/region about a million times and the end result is much like the aformentioned Worcestershire sauce. It sounds kind of like its spelled, but then if you tried to spell it phonetically from what you were saying, you’d spell it wrong.

  49. Anonymous says:

    At least you came out of it more experienced and stronger. I wish you the best of lucks in the rest of your life!

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